IN THE SECOND WEEK OF FEBRUARY, both Rahul Gandhi and Narendra Modi hit the campaign trail in Odisha. The state, which is due to hold assembly elections within the next four months, has been governed for 14 years by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, whose Biju Janata Dal party controls two-thirds of Odisha’s 21 Lok Sabha seats and seven out of every ten of its assembly positions. In the months before Gandhi and Modi arrived, Patnaik was advertised by leaders of a potential third-front alliance as a front-runner for the coalition’s prime ministerial candidate.
At a rally on 9 February, Gandhi tore into Patnaik’s administration, invoking a litany of malfeasance, including a Rs 60,000-crore scam probed by the central government’s MB Shah Commission on illegal mining. “Your money earned from coal, iron ore, manganese and different minerals are going to others’ pockets, while the state government is unable to run schools and hospitals,” Gandhi said. Two days later, Modi was more restrained; he avoided mentioning the corruption uncovered by the Shah Commission, but ridiculed the idea of a third-front alliance: “Eleven parties come together for the third front. They go to Delhi and take photos holding hands since they can’t show their faces in their states.”
The difference between the two speeches might be attributed to current political realities, which have everything to do with the only politician who really matters in the state—Patnaik. Even as he flirts with a third front, the chief minister, who was previously a BJP ally for over ten years, is seen as a man who might just as easily throw his weight behind a National Democratic Alliance government led by Modi.